Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/March 1877/Popular Miscellany
Antarctic Icebergs.—Sir C. Wyville Thomson, in a lecture reported in Nature for November 30th and December 7th, presents facts of interest obtained during the cruise of the Challenger, concerning the antarctic regions visited.
The expedition met with its first ice five days' sail southward of the desolate, rocky group known as the Heard Islands. In a short time the ship was in the midst of bergs of exquisite beauty of both form and color.
The most southerly point reached was latitude 66° 40' south, longitude 78° 22' east, when they were exactly 1,400 miles from the south pole. The icebergs, some of them of immense size, were tabular in form, "the surface being level, and parallel with the surface of the sea . . . a cliff, on an average 200 feet high, bounding the berg. The cliffs were marked with delicately pale blue lines a foot apart near the top, closer together near the bottom; the intervening bands were white, probably from containing some air. . . . The stratifications of the bergs being originally horizontal, they were believed to be blocks riven from the edge of the great antarctic ice-sheet."
A further conclusion was that the stratification was due to successive accumulations of snow upon a nearly level surface. There was no evidence that the ice had passed over uneven surfaces, nor was there upon the bergs any trace of débris, such as might fall from elevated cliffs. The snow upon the surface of the bergs was of dazzling whiteness, but, in places, faint discolorations, due not to earthy matter, but to the presence of birds, were observed. Prof. Thomson concludes that the ice from which the bergs were broken was found upon low, level land that was surrounded by shallow water.
Although no débris were seen upon the bergs, it is quite certain that large quantities of them were held in their under portions, whence they dropped into the sea, as such deposits were continually brought up by the dredge.
Prof. Thomson suggests that the increase of glaciers in thickness may be limited by melting at their under surface from pressure of the mass. A column of ice, 1,400 feet high, he estimates to lie upon the ground with a pressure of nearly a quarter of a ton to each square inch of surface, nor does he find reason to doubt that the temperature of the earth's surface beneath the glacier is about 32°. He cites the fact that from beneath glaciers in Greenland muddy streams are continually discharged. It is possible, therefore, that the antarctic glaciers, covering vast level tracts, are prevented from accumulating to a thickness much exceeding 1,400 feet, by waste in the bottom portions, where constant melting and regelation are going on.
On the chart of the American explorer, Lieutenant Wilkes, a position is given for what he called Termination Land. On closely approaching the spot, no land was found, and Prof. Thomson was "forced to the conclusion that Lieutenant Wilkes was in error."
The interesting fact was revealed by soundings that a layer of water 300 fathoms below the surface was warmer by several degrees than water at the surface, and it was ascertained that the heat increased northward. Hence it was concluded that the source of the warm water was northward, and that it may have been deflected by the southward projection of continental lands, turning southward currents which have their origin in the "great drift-current which sweeps round the globe."
Animals and Steam-Engines.—A writer in Dingler's Polytechnisches Journal, in noting the behavior of different animals toward the steam-engine, remarks upon the dexterity with which dogs run about among the wheels of a departing railway-train without suffering the least injury, whereas a host of railway workmen annually lose their lives. On the other hand, the ox, a proverbially stupid animal, continues standing composedly on the rails, having no idea of the danger which threatens him, and is run over. Many kinds of birds seem to have a peculiar delight in the steam-engine. It has often happened that larks have built their nests and reared their young under the switches of a much-traveled railway. In engine-houses the swallow is a frequent guest. In a certain mill, where a noisy, three hundred horse-power engine works night and day, two pairs of swallows have built their nests for years, and rear their young there regularly. A case of almost incredible trustfulness on the part of swallows occurred in the early part of last year, when a pair of these birds built in the paddle-box of a steamer, and regularly made the journeys from Pesth to Semlin. The author concludes with this caustic remark: "I have never yet found any animal at home in the boiler-house. Even the dog steers clear of boilers. It is almost as if the lower animals knew what an amount of stupidity and folly appears in our construction of boilers."
Prof. Dana on Cephalization.—The fifth of Prof. Dana's interesting papers on "Cephalization" is published in the American Journal of Science and Arts for October. The author's thesis here is that cephalization is a fundamental principle in the development of the system of animal life. As the animal grade rises, there is a compacting of structure in both the fore and hinder parts of the body. Of mammals the lowest forms are those having their locomotive functions in the posterior parts of the body, while in the higher forms the forces or force-organs are more and more forward in the structure. There are large size and strength behind in low forms, but a compacting of these and a better head in the higher.
The head becomes more and more the centre of nervous energy or force as development goes on, and this is to be seen in the specific forms of Nature. "Here form," says the author, "is with some limitations an expression of force."
Cephalization is shown both in embryonic development and in the progress of life in geological history. The law is further illustrated by the discoveries of Prof. Marsh, from which it appears that the brains of the great mammals of the early Tertiary were very much smaller than those of allied species of recent time. Thus the brain of the dinoceras, of the Eocene, was not more than one-eighth the size of that of the modern rhinoceros, showing an immense development of the brain, while the bulk of the animals has decreased. We have also a development of those features of both form and capacity which are characteristic of brain-power.
The increase of the brain and nervous system may arise, the author suggests, from the fact that this part of the structure comes in contact with outside and inside Nature, and is the means by which the animal has communication with the outer and inner world, and with its own inner workings and appetites. This constant and energetic use of the brain may have given to it its wonderful growth and strength since Eocene times.
But brain-progress could not have taken place without structural progress, and structural changes have been determined by it. Brain-force reacts upon and modifies both form and structure.
It is not claimed by the author that the theory of cephalization accounts for all the types of structure found in the animal world, but only that whatever these types may have been in course of development they were in general subordination to the principle of cephalization. "The origin of the grander types of structure," writes Prof. Dana, "must be connected with the profoundest of molecular laws; and how connected man may never know. These views may hold, whatever be the true method of evolution. The method by repeated creations should be subordinated, as much as any other, to molecular law and all laws of growth; for molecular law is the profoundest expression of the Divine will. But the present state of science favors the view of progress through the derivation of species from species, with few occasions for Divine intervention. If, then, there has been derivation of species from species, we may believe that all actual struggles and rivalries among animals leading to 'survival of the fittest' must tend, as in man, to progress in cephalization and dependent structural changes."
On the Origin of Prairies.—Having shown, in an article which we noticed in the December number of the Monthly, the untenableness of the current hypotheses with regard to the origin of prairies, Prof. J. D. Whitney now presents, in the American Naturalist, a theory of his own. He finds, as the result of a great number of observations made over all the prairie States, that almost without exception absence of forests is connected with extreme fineness of soil, and that this fine material usually occurs in heavy deposits. "No person," he remarks, "can have traveled through Southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, or Missouri, without having had everywhere occasion to observe that the prairie-soil is exceedingly fine and deep; there are whole counties in Iowa in which not a single pebble can be found." The distribution of the timbered and prairie tracts in Wisconsin affords a good test of the correctness of the author's hypothesis. In the northern part of the State is a region of dense forest, though this is not a region of large precipitation. It is, however, heavily covered with coarse detrital materials, plentifully distributed from the headquarters of the drift on Lake Superior. The rocks underlying the drift-deposits are crystalline, belonging to the Azoic series, and the surface is rough and broken, being intersected with low ridges and knobs of granite and trap. South of this is a large area, occupying the central portion of the State, and extending as far as the Wisconsin River, almost exclusively occupied by a very pure siliceous sandstone, which is wrapped about the Azoic region, extending in a northeasterly direction to the Menomonee River, and northwest to the falls of the St. Croix. This great sandstone-covered area is the pine-district of the State, while south of the Wisconsin is the region of oak-openings and prairies. When we reach these treeless tracts we have got entirely beyond the drift-covered area, and are upon a soil made up of the insoluble residuum left from the disintegration of several feet in thickness of limestone and dolomite, which have been dissolved out and carried away by the rain.
Albertite.—This substance, now largely consumed as an enricher of illuminating gas, is thus described in a recent number of the Iron Age:
Singular Feeding Habits of Wood-Ants.—Mr. McCook, of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, has published in, the "Proceedings" of that body some highly-interesting observations on the habits of Formica rufa, from which it appears that these ants have in their separate communities regular provision made whereby the workers are fed without having to quit the scene of their labors. The foragers of a community, as they come down the tree-paths, their abdomens swollen with honeydew—in which condition they are called by the author repletes—are arrested near the foot by workers from the hill seeking food. The replete rears upon her hind-legs, and places her mouth to the mouth of the hungry worker, or "pensioner," as the author calls him, who assumes the same posture. Often two, sometimes three pensioners are thus fed at once by one replete. The latter commonly yields the honey-dew complacently, but sometimes she is seized and arrested by the pensioner, occasionally with great vigor. The author described a number of experiments leading to the conclusion that there was complete amity between the ants of a district embracing some 1,600 hills and countless millions of creatures. Insects from hills widely separated always fraternized completely when transferred. It was found, however, that ants immersed in water, when replaced upon the hills, are invariably attacked as enemies; the assailants being immersed were themselves in turn assaulted. Experiments indicate that the bath temporarily destroys the peculiar odor or other property by which the insects recognize their fellows.
How Meteorites were regarded in Olden Times.—There was a noteworthy fall of meteorites in Berkshire, England, in the year 1628, and devout persons with one accord seem to have looked on the phenomenon as a special act of Divine Providence. The meteorites are "the arrows of God's indignation," and he is entreated "to shoote them some other way, upon the bosomes of those that would confound his Gospell." One Mistress Green had the courage to order one of these heaven-sent "thunder-stones" to be dug out of the ground, and a chronicler of the time gives a description of it. The chronicler himself had little sympathy with the curiosity of Mrs. Green, for he warns his readers against being "so daring as to pry into the closet of God's determinations. His workes are full of wonders, and not to be examined." A letter written by an eye-witness of this fall of meteorites well illustrates the devout credulity of the time. It opens with the following passage: "The cause of my writing to you at this time is by reason of an accident that the Lord sent among us. I have heard of the Lord by the hearing of the ear, as the prophet speaketh, but now mine eyes hath seen him. You will marvel that I write thus, for no man hath seen God at any time, yet in his works we see him daily, but now after a more special manner." Then, after giving a clear account of the whole occurrence, the writer concludes with an exhortation to unbelievers: "Now let the atheist stand amazed at this work of the Lord." In certain districts of Berkshire there is still a tradition of the fall of these meteorites, and old people speak of it as such an event as to have created a belief at the time that "the world was coming to an end."
Education in the Public Schools of Massachusetts.—Mr. Wendell Phillips recently delivered an address on the subject of education, in which occurred the following remarks upon the value of the intellectual training a girl receives in the public schools of Massachusetts: "The public schools teach her arithmetic, philosophy, trigonometry, geometry, music, botany, and history, and all that class of knowledge. Seven out of ten of them, remember, are to earn their bread by the labor of their hands. Well, at fifteen, we give that child back to her parents utterly unfitted for any kind of work that is worth a morsel of bread. If the pupil could only read the ordinary newspaper to three auditors it would be something, but this the scholar so educated, so produced, cannot do. I repeat it: four-fifths of the girls you present to society at fifteen cannot read a page intelligibly." But the current system of school-education is faulty and defective no less with regard to boys than with regard to girls, for, as Mr. Phillips further observes, "we produce only the superficial result of the culture we strive for. Now, I claim that this kind of education injures the boy or girl in at least three ways: first, they are able, only by forgetting what they have learned and beginning again, to earn their day's bread; in the second place, it is earned reluctantly; third, there is no ambition for perfection aroused. It seems to be a fact, which many of the public educators of to-day overlook, that seven-tenths of the people born into this world earn their living on matter and not on mind. Now, friends, I protest against this whole system of common schools in Massachusetts. It lacks the first element of preparation for life. We take the young girl or the young boy whose parents are able to lift them into an intellectual profession; we keep them until they are eighteen years old in the high schools; we teach them the sciences; they go to the academy or the college to pursue some course of preparation for their presumed course through life. Why not keep them a little longer and give them other than intellectual training for the business of life?"
Influence of Color of Soil on Potatoes.—Having observed that potatoes grown in dark-colored soil are less subject to disease than those grown in soil of lighter color, Mr. J. B. Hannay, member of the Edinburgh Royal Society, conjectured that the difference must be due to the greater absorption of heat by the darker soil. He accordingly made the following experiment: A piece of ground, consisting of a kind of blue till, was divided into two parts, both being planted with potatoes in the ordinary way. One of the parts was then covered with soot, which had been carefully washed till no soluble matter remained in it; the other part was left as planted. The potatoes in the soot-covered portion sprouted first, and throughout were much healthier than the others. The temperature of both portions was from time to time noted on sunny days with the following result:
|Depth 2 in.||Depth 8 in.||Depth 2 in.||Depth 8 in.|
From this table it clearly appears that the potatoes grown in dark soil have a warmer climate, so to speak, than those in a light one. The tubers with no soot were weak, and had a great deal of disease among them, while the other lot were nearly all healthy.
Chemical examination showed the principal inorganic constituents to be present in both in about the same proportions. There was a marked difference, however, between the two in the development of the starch-granules. In the potatoes grown under soot there was 22.5 per cent. of starch, but in the others only 17.5 per cent.—a difference of 5 per cent. Then, as for the size of the starch-granules in the good potatoes, the average was 0.175 millimetre; but in the diseased tubers it was only 0.155 millimetre. Thus it is seen that not only were the granules smaller, but their number was less. The inference is, that increase of temperature gives a great impetus to the growth of starch-granules both in size and number.
Asymmetry of the Eyes in Flounders.—The American Naturalist for December contains a singularly interesting paper by Prof. Alexander Agassiz on flounders, in which the author recounts his observations upon the manner in which the eyes, in that family of fishes, become placed on one side of the body. In five species of flounders he found that the eye on the blind side travels from its original place (symmetrical with the eye of the opposite side) frontward and upward on the blind side, resorbing the tissues in its way, and new tissues forming behind. This movement of translation is followed by a certain amount of torsion of the whole frontal part of the head, which, however, commences only after the eye of the blind side has nearly reached the upper edge of that side, quite a distance in advance of its original position. So far, Agassiz's observations concur, in the main, with the received theory. Further research, however, showed that the process of translation of the eye is not the same in all species of flounders. Having captured specimens about one inch in length, symmetrical and perfectly transparent, of the species Bascania, the author noticed after a few days that "one eye, the right, moved its place somewhat toward the upper part of the body, so that when the young fish was laid on its side the upper half of the right eye could be plainly seen, through the perfectly transparent body, to project above the left eye The right eye (as is the case with the eyes of all flounders), being capable of very extensive vertical movements through an arc of 180°, could thus readily turn to look through the body, above the left eye, and see what was passing on the left side, the right eye being, of course, useless on its own side as long as the fish lay on its side. This slight upward tendency of the right eye was continued in connection with a motion of translation toward the anterior part of the head till the eye, when seen through the body from the left side, was entirely clear of the left eye, and was thus placed somewhat in advance and above it, but still entirely in the rear of the base of the dorsal fin, extending to the end of the snout.
"What was my astonishment on the following day," continues Prof. Agassiz, "on turning over the young flounder on its left side, to find that the right eye had actually sunk into the tissues of the head, penetrating into the space between the base of the dorsal fin and the frontal bone to such an extent that the tissues adjoining the orbit had slowly closed over a part of the eye, leaving only a small elliptical opening smaller than the pupil, through which the right eye could look when the fish was swimming vertically! On the following day the eye had pushed its way still farther through, so that a small opening now appeared opposite it on the left side, through which the right eye could now see directly, the original opening on the right side being almost entirely closed. Soon after, this new opening on the left increased gradually in size, the right eye pushing its way more and more to the surface, and finally looking outward on the left side with as much freedom as the eye originally on the left, the opening of the right side having permanently closed."
Destruction of Birds in the United States.—In the course of an article in the Penn Monthly on the decrease of birds in the United States, Mr. J. A. Allen says of the heron that, though nearly useless as food, it has been enormously diminished in numbers, mostly through natural causes, but in part by the wanton act of man. "Many," he writes, "have of late been destroyed for their feathers in Florida especially; the havoc made with these poor defenseless birds is a subject of painful contemplation and a disgrace to the age. The poor birds are attacked at their breeding-grounds, and hundreds are slain in a few hours by single parties, whose only use of them is to secure the beautiful plumes with which Nature has unfortunately adorned them. In this way colony after colony is broken up, the greater part of the birds being actually killed on the spot, often leaving nestlings to suffer a lingering death by starvation. The few old birds that survive usually abandon the locality where for generations their progenitors had lived and reared their young undisturbed, only to be attacked at some new point the following year. The habit most of the species of herons have of breeding together in communities renders their destruction during nesting-time an easy matter, their strong parental affection leading them to be neglectful of their own safety when their young are in danger. Disgraceful and inhuman as the act may seem, many a heronry of the qua-bird, or night-heron, is annually destroyed in mere wantonness, in order that the perpetrator may boast of the 'cart-load' of birds he shot in a single day!"
The Plasticity of Ice.—Experiments made in 1871 by Prof. Bianconi, of Bologna, showed that slow changes of form in ice may be produced without any crushing or regelation, and that ice is, to a certain extent, plastic. He has lately published the results of further experiments on this subject, a brief notice of which is given in Nature as follows: "Granite pebbles and iron plates are slowly pressed into ice at the same temperatures, and not only do they penetrate into it as they would penetrate into a fluid or semi-fluid, but also the particles of ice are laterally repulsed from beneath the intruding body, and form around it a rising fringe. Moreover, when a flat piece of iron is pressed into the ice, the fringe rising around it expands laterally upon the borders of the piece, and tends thus, as in fluids, to fill up the cavity made by the body driven in. These experiments tend greatly to illustrate the plasticity of ice, but it would be very desirable that some measurements should be given, so as to obtain numerical values of the plasticity of ice under various circumstances."
Perils of Arctic Exploration.—Lieutenant Payer, one of the commanders of the Austrian Polar Expedition of 1872-'74, in his published narrative gives a graphic account of the perilous situation in which the expedition found itself on Sunday, October 13, 1872. "In the morning of that day," he writes, "as we sat at breakfast, our floe burst across immediately under the ship. Rushing on deck, we discovered that we were surrounded and squeezed by the ice; the after-part of the ship was already nipped and pressed, and the rudder, which was the first to encounter its assault, shook and groaned; but, as its great weight did not admit of its being shipped, we were content to lash it firmly. We next sprang on the ice, the tossing, tremulous motion of which literally filled the air with noises as of shrieks and howls, and we quietly got on board all the materials which were lying on the floe, and bound the fissures of the ice hastily together by ice-anchors and cables, filling them up with snow, in the hope that frost would complete our work, though we felt that a single heave might shatter our labors. . . . Mountains threateningly reared themselves from out the level fields of ice, and the low groan which issued from its depths grew into a deep, rumbling sound, and at last rose into a furious howl as of myriads of voices. Noise and confusion reigned supreme, and step by step destruction drew nigh in the crashing together of the fields of ice. Our floe was now crushed, and its blocks, piled up into mountains, drove hither and thither. Here they towered fathoms high above the ship; there masses of ice fell down as into an abyss under the ship, to be ingulfed in the rushing waters, so that the quantity of ice beneath the ship was continually increased, and at last it began to raise her quite above the level of the sea."
The Coal and Iron Resources of Alabama.—The coal and iron resources of Alabama were the subject of a recent interesting communication by Mr. William Gesner to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. According to the author, the coal-measures of the Warrior and Cahawba coal-fields consist severally of 172 and 173 strata. The coal-seams, which range from one inch to six feet six inches in thickness, number 46 in the Warrior and 51 in the Cahawba field. Two beds of black-band ore characterize the Warrior measures, one of them showing 43 per cent. of metallic iron; clay iron-stone is abundant, and is found in all the Alabama coal-fields. In one instance it forms the roof of a 28-inch bed of coal in the Warrior measures. Immediately under the mountain limestone of the carboniferous formation in the Upper Silurian, a bed of fossiliferous hematite occurs. It extends in a northern direction over 120 miles into Tennessee. In Jefferson County, Alabama, its thickness is 28 feet. About two or three miles east and west of this ore-bed lie the coal-fields. For its entire extent throughout the State, and immediately under it, are the limestones of the Silurian formation, among which are many of the purest and those best adapted for fluxing iron from its ores. Geologically, in descending order, next come the immense beds of brown ore, comprising manganiferous and fibrous limonite and mamillary and crystallized hematite, from which hitherto nearly all of the iron of Alabama has been produced.
The Physical Properties of Gallium.—The physical properties of gallium, as ascertained by its discoverer, Lecoq de Boisbaudran, who has prepared a decigramme of nearly pure metal, are summed up as follows in the American Journal of Science: Its fusing-point is about 29.5 Cent., so that the heat of the hand liquefies it. When liquid, it exhibits the phenomena of surfusion to a remarkable degree. It has remained liquid for more than a month, the globule being frequently broken and reunited by a steel blade in a room the temperature of which often fell below the freezing-point, Contact with a bit of solid gallium, however, solidified it at once. Liquid gallium is very mobile, appears covered with a pellicle when exposed to the air, and adheres strongly to glass. Only a few degrees below its fusing-point the metal is hard and remarkably tenacious; but, like aluminum, it may be cut with a knife. It crystallizes with facility, crystal facets being developed by treatment with hydrochloric acid. It does not oxidize at a red heat except upon the surface, and does not volatilize. Its spark-spectrum gives the two well-known bright lines of wave-length 417 and 403.1; its flame-spectrum only the 417 line, and this difficultly. Its density approximately is 4.7, thus placing it, like its other physical properties, between aluminum and indium. Its atomic weight places it there probably also.
Death of Karl Ernst von Baer.—The eminent Russian zoölogist, Karl Ernst von Baer, died at Dorpat, November 28th, in the eighty-fifth year of his age. He was born at Piep, in Esthonia, in 1792; at the age of eighteen he entered the University of Dorpat, graduating four years later as doctor of medicine. He then went to Germany, and, at Würzburg, became a pupil of Döllinger, the eminent professor of physiology and anatomy. This was the turning-point in Yon Baer's career, and determined the course of his future studies. In 1817 he became prosector at Königsberg, and, four years later, professor of zoology. In 1830 he returned home, having been elected a member of the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy. He conducted a scientific exploration of the northern shores of Russia in 1837. Of his most celebrated work, "The Development History of Animals," the first volume appeared in 1828 and the second ten years later. He was also the author of numerous treatises on the zoölogy and botany of Russia. His latest work was an adverse criticism on the Darwinian theory.
The death of Alexander Bain, which took place at Glasgow, January 2d, was cabled to this country, and at once interpreted as applying to the eminent Professor of Logic in Aberdeen University, who bears that name, and who is much more widely known here than Alexander Bain, the electrician, to whom the dispatch referred. He was an inventor, and made various important improvements in telegraphy. He invented, or reinvented, the method of making use of "bodies of natural waters to complete the electric circuit by laying a single insulated wire between the given stations, having at each end a metallic brush immersed in the water." This principle was promulgated in a patent of 1841. In 1846 he patented the electrochemical telegraph, and soon found his system capable of great speed; he was thus led to the invention of automatic methods of transmitting signals, of which one is the basis of the most important process now used. He invented electrical clocks, and in 1843 constructed the earth-battery. In 1844 he patented ingenious apparatus for registering the progress of ships, and he also devised electrical methods of playing keyed instruments at a distance. He was struck down with paralysis some years ago, and died, at the age of sixty-six, in a "Home for Incurables." A Government pension of eighty pounds a year was all that saved him from pauperism.